Lessons from Cinderella

 

I went through a phase, in my Christian walk, of avoiding many secular offerings. These days I still avoid a lot of TV shows and movies (mainly because I find certain genres too triggering). But now my ability to trust God and my desire to understand His heart toward the world, and toward me, is stronger than it was prior. The growth I’ve experienced in my faith has lessened the ‘avoid out of fear’ and turned it more into a ‘everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial’ (1 Corinthians 10:23) standpoint. And so I don’t restrict myself from something that draws me in, yet I will definitely take note of any occult references, secular humanism, and glaringly obviously lack of Jesus in most of what the world puts forth. It is to be expected, so why get upset over it? If I were to do that I’d be upset 24/7 because those things are everywhere.

A few times God has used some bit of dialogue, from a movie or overheard conversation, to hammer home a point that I needed to take to heart. To effectively peel another onion layer in the ongoing recovery from past child abuse. If Elijah could be fed by blackbirds (unclean animals that were to be avoided) then perhaps God’s people of today can also be ‘fed’ life-giving food from an unclean source as well.

And that is good, because one of the side effects of being physically unwell for several years is that I have a lot of what I call ‘couch time’. I prefer reading but there are days when even holding a book in my hands is too much. On those days I watch what I can find on Cable or Netflix. And so: I recently caught an adaptation of Disney’s Cinderella while channel surfing.

I was immediately drawn in.

Cinderella was one of my favorite fairy tales as a young child–one that I pored over again and again. At the time I didn’t realize that my own siblings and extended family members were abusing me, (by preschool age I had already learned to blame myself for that treatment). Which is why the idea of Cinderella being magically rescued out of an abusive home life, in which she was literally trapped, captivated me. It was so close to my own story–though I didn’t fully make that connection until recently.

My own family members gave me several unkind nicknames in my childhood, just like ‘Cinderella’ was the result of a mocking nickname. My bedroom was squalor filled and rodents were very real to me (though I did NOT befriend them). I was put into a caretaker role of the adults around me at a very young age and later when I was nearly an adult, both of my parents ensured their own financial and other securities, at the expense of my own. But just like a fairy tale– just in the nick of time I found a handsome prince and we set out on our own, purposely making our path very different from the lives we knew as children. To quote from another movie (Pretty Woman) — when the prince climbed the tower to rescue the woman, the woman rescued him right back. That’s pretty much the story of my life and marriage. We rescued each other and then wrote our own story with intentionality and love.

Point being: my life path mimics that of a fictional Cinderella. It took some time to break the financial bondages that also ensued; but in time they were broken. And like a fairy tale princess- I’ve always wanted pretty things to wear and to fill up my home…and my husband and I both worked very hard to achieve that.

We now have most of the things we wanted. And that can be fun. But: it’s just mammon. It can’t buy you peace of mind or salvation. It also can’t ensure you have good health (sigh). And I’ve learned that even financial success, a lot like health status, is all ‘relative’. Compared to some we are ‘rich’ and compared to others: we have very little. There will never be ‘enough’ to satisfy even the richest amongst us. I have found that it really is better to have a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred. (Proverbs 15:17). But that doesn’t stop me from wanting the fattened calf with love; regardless. I also would love to see all my health issues reverse…❤️

And so the combination of physical illness and the guilt, unease, and ongoing trauma ramifications from my past sometimes keep me from fully enjoying that fairy tale ‘life’, that fattened calf existence, that one might assume someone like me has — looking in at my current ‘outward appearances’.

Which is why I find it so deliciously ironic that watching a movie about a fairy tale that I really identify with, left me with two very good ‘nuggets’ of wisdom to carry forward. To ease the guilt and the trauma effects. To lighten my load.

(Spoiler alerts follow–stop reading if you want to watch the movie unspoiled!) In the film, when Cinderella first meets the Prince he inquires about her family’s treatment of her. And she responds (paraphrasing and this may be a little bit off!)

“They treat me as well as they are able.”

Woah. What wisdom there. Abusive sorts simply aren’t able to show kindness and love. I know this, but the temptation to blame myself or to make excuses for them remains. In reality, they treated me as well as they were able and for whatever reason — unconditional love was simply not in their ability to give.

I was bracing myself to not like the ending. I was somewhat expecting that the stepsisters and stepmother would be reformed at the end and allowed to live the castle life they so desperately desired–since that has become the expected new ending to old fairy tales–where the bad guys turn out to be good guys, etc.

Instead, the ending was brilliant. And something that I wish the Christian church understood better. Within the church we focus so much on outward appearances and looking the part that we no longer have a clear understanding of the differences between forgiveness and reconciliation. Reconciliation is too often expected as a kind of proof of forgiveness–with the burden of bearing that proof put on the offended, rather than the offender. But while forgiveness is a scriptural command, no where in Scripture are we told to reconcile to unrepentant and unchanged people. In fact, we are warned against that!

In the closing scenes Cinderella verbally expresses her forgiveness to her stepmother and sisters, right before leaving her childhood home a final time. (I almost did an eye-roll as I knew that one was coming.)

But then the narrator added, “Though she forgave her stepmother and stepsisters, they were banished from the kingdom forever.”

I can’t tell you how much my soul needed the affirmation that forgiveness does not have to equal reconciliation.

Particularly with people who have not changed.

Thoughts on God as Mother–a survivor’s approach to Mother’s Day.

woman holding baby while blowing dandelion
Photo by Iuliyan Metodiev on Pexels.com

First off: I am not making an argument toward God’s femininity. This is not that post. I refer to God as Him, and when I pray I address Him as Father. Because Jesus refers to Him as Father in Scriptures; I do as well!

Why explore God-as-mother, then? Because this post is personal. I had a lot of abandonment and abuse from both my father AND my mother. Self-help materials and other forms of support ABOUND, in terms of overcoming a broken father-bond.

The term ‘Daddy Issues’ needs little explanation in our culture. It’s widely acknowledged. It is frequently implied, in a church setting, that someone with ‘daddy issues’ (an absent or aloof father, abusive, an addict, etc.) ends up having ‘trust issues with their Heavenly Father.’ It is also common cultural knowledge that a female with ‘daddy issues’ is prone to self-defeating and even dangerous choices with men in her life. As someone with such issues, I find the cultural acceptance of broken-father bonds actually makes it easier to talk about, and thereby heal.

We don’t talk as freely about a broken relationship with Mother. Aside from step-monsters (a friend’s nickname for her stepmother) and mother-n-law jokes. Seriously, though, the position of Mother is near-sacred in the human race. This is evidenced every May by the abundance of weepy commercials urging you to remember your saintly Mom on Mother’s Day!

Dad’s, generally speaking, don’t get that kind of reverence.

Mother’s Day can be tough for survivors who were abandoned by their mothers. Compounded by a culture which often doesn’t want to hear it; at least not in the month of May. Likewise, Mommy Issues can be even more taboo to talk about in a church setting. When I have broached that subject with others I feel sometimes like I have hit a bit of a ‘wall’. A few times, I have had friends slowly and softly say, ‘maybe my mom wasn’t as innocent as I once thought.’ Which gives me hope. But, I realize that coming around to one’s ‘mommy issues’ is not easy. I suspect that for most of us, the reality of having a mother who abandons you–who is the opposite of the classic ‘mama bear’– is even harder than abandonment from ‘dad’. For myriads of reasons.

It sure is for me.

Reverse Mama Bear Syndrome

My mom was not a Mama Bear (another term which has become commonplace in our culture and needs no explanations). The way she FIERCELY protected herself, and the storylines she still tells herself (she refuses to acknowledge I was abused), the way she intentionally numbs out from everything unpleasant, was a bit like a Mama Bear. But instead of protecting her children she protected the immature child within her own psyche. She is in FIERCE denial to this day. So I found myself, at a young age, becoming like a Mama Bear over her; protecting her from life and the turbulent family dynamics–instead of the other way around. In psychological terms, when children become overly caring for a parent(s), it’s thrown into categories like emotional incest. Today, I am going to call it ‘Reverse Mama Bear Syndrome.’ (Because I’m feeling cheeky.)

Reverse Mama Bear Syndrome left me fiercely protecting the story of denial I was telling myself in my own head (Mom was abused as a small child. Mom can’t help it. Mom would be different without dad. Mom cares, she just can’t do anything; because: DAD). This translated into my faith life; big time. I didn’t trust God to protect me. I felt I had to protect Him. For years I found myself flaring, claws coming out, if anyone suggested anything that didn’t line up with what I knew of God. Softening the blows of what others think of Him, as if He couldn’t handle those things Himself. Explaining Him to others in ways that made apologies (As someone once said: The Word of God is like a lion– let it out of the cage and it can take care of itself just fine!).

Scriptures that Changed my Heart

When Jesus refers to a hen gathering chicks; that’s ‘mom-behavior.’ In Isaiah, God refers to Himself acting as a woman in childbirth.

Isaiah 42: 14 For a long time I have kept silent,
    I have been quiet and held myself back.
But now, like a woman in childbirth,
    I cry out, I gasp and pant.

There is another verse which struck me recently, too. The background: King David’s ‘crown’ is being threatened by his own son, Absalom. Absalom is seeking to usurp his father and take over Kingship of all of Israel. One of the advisers to Absalom warns him about the fighting prowess of both David and David’s men.

2 Samuel 17:8

You know your father and his men; they are fighters, and as fierce as a wild bear robbed of her cubs. Besides, your father is an experienced fighter; he will not spend the night with the troops.

This gave me pause. I thought to myself –did I really just see God comparing His behavior to a Mama Bear?? Let me explain: Defeating evil through warfare, with a Godly person at the forefront leading those armies (King David is lauded as ‘having a heart for God’), is a common theme in the Old Testament. For me, these OT battles bring up images of, and also trust in the promise of, heavenly armies, and the battle God has ultimately won on the cross, and will win again in the final end, against all forms of evil on earth and beyond.

God’s behavior is also likened to a Mama Bear in Hosea 13:8

Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them.

It’s pretty clear that when you give your life to Jesus, God is a Mama Bear over you. So I don’t need to be so fiercely protective over the immature little girl in my psyche; and I certainly don’t need to be fiercely protective over Him. That’s His job. The only thing I need to do is step back and let Him roar, (or whatever noise Mama Bears make).

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

Smelled Like Funky Religion To Me.

blur close up environment incense
Photo by Artem Bali on Pexels.com

I recently visited a healing room. The strong smell of incense, upon opening the door, warned there could be funky stuff inside…and my nose is rarely wrong. The room was filled with tulle and pillows and swords and crowns. Some visitors looked right at home while others looked a bit uneasy.

I wasn’t seeking a healing or praying for anyone else’s. I went there because friends invited us to an event. I also share some things in common with the proponents of healing rooms.

  • I believe in healings.
  • I believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit are at work today.

But there were things about this healing room that I found too weird for my personal comfort–and weird is not meant as a pejorative. I like weird. I am quite weird by usual standards. (Which is why I get these invites). Furthermore, I can’t stand incense. I get an instant headache whenever I get but a whiff of it. I avoid places that use it. Unless I’ve already entered the front door to an event where I was expected.

TOO LATE.

When we finally left I told my husband the experience ‘smelled like funky religion to me!’ Which confused him. He hadn’t even noticed the smell of incense. So while I didn’t actually see any sticks burning– at some point I know that room had burned incense.

I was leery of the healing room going into it, and leery of writing of the experience here, (lest I offend someone). In both cases I simply went for it. I even engaged in quizzical conversation with a leader there. She wasn’t sure, herself, what all the pillows and tulle was about, or the columns, or the sword stuck into a rock (I didn’t even ask about the other sword hanging on the wall)…some people had shown up one day and ‘decorated’ and she was as surprised by the outcome as I…as we chatted on, I round-about shared the pain of my family estrangement. She suggested a character in the Bible as an example in moving forward. God had shown me that same character in the Bible too.

That coincidence wasn’t enough to convince me to drop all my guard, though. Incense aside, I am biased against religious icons and props. Maybe my conservative protestant upbringing shows there. Mainly, though, I have healed enough to heed any feelings of unease in my spirit. At one time I would have gone into self doubt or blame and shame and, eager to please, gone along with whatever my friends suggested. This time it was clear what I was to do. Spirit checks urged me to keep some distance unless/until God leads me back.

Yet the incense lingered, as incense does…so I looked up several scriptures. I have been ruminating on Psalm 141:2.  May my prayer be set before You like incense, my uplifted hands like the evening sacrifice. 

Maybe God likes incense? The temple incense instructions are detailed in Exodus30, as well as stern warnings against offering ‘strange’ incense. I was curious if that incense had ever been recreated. The Bible’s version prolly smelled better than today’s stinky sticks. Either way, I suspect God likes heartfelt prayers and worship best of all.

When it’s Good to be Stubborn like a Mule.

black and white animal pony not

Mules, the (usually) infertile offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, sometimes get a bad rap for their stubborn attitudes. The truth is not that black and white, though. A horse will try to impress or please its owner by carrying far more than it ought to be carrying, or outworking or outrunning itself (we just watched the movie Secretariat, and that was one of the concerns was that he (the horse-Secretariat) would actually injure himself racing if they just ‘let him run full speed’ without reigning him in. So while a horse runs the risk of hurting itself, if the owner or farmer isn’t careful–when a donkey or a mule reaches its limit–it stops. A farmer, therefore, doesn’t need to be as cautious about overloading or overworking a mule or donkey. They know their limits and when those limits are reached–they stop working. Mules are also far more willing to fight off predators like coyotes, rather than fleeing or rearing up in fear.

It could be said that Mules and Donkeys have really good boundaries and sense of self. The key to setting any good boundary is just that: you have to first know your own limits. An impossible task if you are bent on people pleasing and making whoever owns you happy. And make no mistake, if you are a people pleaser (something I am intimately familiar with being myself!!)–you are owned by someone–that someone being whoever you are trying to impress or keep happy. Doing that will come at  your own expense.

For a Christian this poses a real dilemma. I want to be owned by Jesus. I am HIS servant and no one else’s. But if my actions are consistently horse like; meaning I am ever willing to impress others, even if it injures myself, how can I say that I belong to Him?

As I was pondering this, I thought of the fact that Jesus rode a donkey — not a horse, on Palm Sunday. The donkey wouldn’t have agreed to that if he wasn’t up to the task. A horse, on the other hand, may have been exhausted but he would have given the ride anyway. I don’t believe Jesus wants us to serve Him or anyone else; if we aren’t truly up to the task. He desires that we get to a place of health where we can handle burdens again–before we try carrying them.

I also thought of the story of Balaam and his donkey, the donkey saw the angel of death and refused to move any further which kept Balaam from meeting the angel of death. Does it mean something that the only animal to ever be recording ‘talking’ is a donkey, an animal that will absolutely refused to be pushed beyond its own ability-to-bear-it-limits?

My conclusion is that boundaries are really, really important. Especially if you are a service animal (as Mules and Donkeys are known world wide to be). Especially if you are a servant of Jesus. Having people destroy my boundaries in childhood destroyed my ability to serve God and others without it costing me greatly.

As I learned how to be more like a Mule myself, it involved some hard choices. My horse-like brain wants to people please and make it all better again (at my own expense). It seems I still struggle knowing my value. Mules and Donkeys know their value; horses not so much. So as I made this transition to what some might call ‘stubbornness’, I’ve been called mean, crazy, rigid, unyielding, and even unforgiving. It’s ok. Balaam beat his donkey for its refusal to lead itself, and him, into death. I can expect similar treatment when I start to assert myself with people who once held my reigns.